Another Highway 35 Truck Wreck, but No Hazmat Spill

By Beacon Staff

POLSON – A tanker truck and pup trailer overturned in a barrow pit Monday on Montana Highway 35 along the east shore of Flathead Lake.

It happened less than a mile from where, just over a year ago, a similar truck crash forced five families to evacuate their lakeshore homes.

The owner of the firm operating the truck says it appears the driver in Monday’s crash will be all right. And this time, the contents of the trailer and pup was dry cement product, not hazardous fuel.

The crash on April 2, 2008, dumped more than 6,000 gallons of gasoline.

That crash is still affecting the lives of two east shore families who have not been allowed to live in their homes for more than a year. Cleanup efforts have run into the millions of dollars and are still under way.

“It could just have easily been another oil tanker,” said Ron Kohler, who along with wife Barbara has been living in a rental since the 2008 wreck filled their home and property with gas vapors and forced them to evacuate.

“There were two right behind us when we went by the scene,” Ron Kohler told the Missoulian, which reported the crash on its Web site.

The 2008 wreck renewed calls by many east shore residents to either ban or limit truck traffic on the narrow, winding highway and reroute it to wider, more modern U.S. Highway 93 on the lake’s west shore.

Many truckers prefer Highway 35 because, despite a lower speed limit than 93, it also lacks steep inclines and saves them time and fuel costs.

While the Montana Department of Transportation said it was awaiting an environmental assessment that could affect a final decision, it had determined that the highway itself was safe for trucks to operate on.

The department videotaped several different types of trucks as they made their way along the 31-mile route between Polson and Bigfork, and determined that any difficulties on the road would be the result of “a driver problem, not a lane configuration problem,” DOT director Jim Lynch said earlier this year.

“Everyone I know who lives along the east shore still disagrees with that,” Kohler said. “And so do a lot of people who drive the highway.”

The truck involved in Monday’s crash is operated by LHC Inc. of Kalispell, a highway construction firm, and was en route from Missoula to Kalispell.